Dark clouds roll in on 2008 season

UCI president Pat McQuaid warned teams

UCI president Pat McQuaid warned teams (Image credit: AFP)

News Feature, February 29, 2008

Once again politics threaten the smooth running of the cycling season. UCI President Pat McQuaid spoke to Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes about the clash over Paris-Nice and possible sanctions for those involved. He also confirmed that Italian races will be on the UCI calendar and talked about a clear problem relating to the biological passport programme.

It's once again a worrying time for those who follow cycling. Despite hopes over the winter months that the UCI-ASO war was nearing a solution and also that the battle against doping was getting closer to being won, it has become increasingly apparent that both issues are still a long way from being resolved.

The first is easier to see, following ASO's recent decision to take Paris-Nice off the international calendar and to run it instead with the French federation. UCI President Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews on Thursday that he considered the decision to be a deliberate effort to stir up disharmony with the governing body, given that the UCI had imposed no rules dictating which teams must ride which was the ASO's chief complaint with the ProTour. "There was no reason, they have just done it to cause a showdown," he stated.

The problems affecting the fight against doping are less obvious at this point in time but, as McQuaid told Cyclingnews this week, race organisers have so far failed to pay their proportion of the costs for implementing the biological passport programme. The total cost of the programme is €5.3 million; at this point in time, the UCI is running €1.3 million short, and that shortfall could threaten the implementation of the passports this season.

Paris - Nice reaction

McQuaid spoke to Cyclingnews on Wednesday, saying then that the teams had the power to work collectively and to force ASO to return Paris-Nice and its other races on the UCI calendar. However, the AIGCP opted instead to go against the UCI, announcing that its members had unanimously voted to take part in the race.

The Irishman later gave his reaction to the news, saying that he was disappointed by the announcement. "I find the AIGCP decision strange. Eric Boyer spoke to me on the phone Monday evening and told me he had contacted all 20 teams who were due to ride Paris-Nice and that the decision was unanimous that they were going to take to the start line. However ten minutes later I spoke to one of the ProTour team managers, who confirmed to me he had absolutely no contact from Boyer that day. So I wonder how unanimous the decision really was.

"I would also make the point that Boyer is the first ever President of AIGCP who has led his members to go against UCI regulations and collaborate with an organiser who itself is breaking the regulations."

The UCI earlier made it clear that by riding a race which is being run outside its rules, teams participating could be liable to sanction. McQuaid stated in the past that if the French federation also broke UCI rules and collaborated with ASO to run the race outside the governing body, that sanctions could be applied there.

It was previously suggested that the French federation could be suspended and thus its riders might be prevented from competing in Beijing. However McQuaid played this down on Thursday, stating that the 2008 Games were unlikely to be affected. However other races may be closed to French riders.

"There will be grave consequences for the French Federation, for teams and for riders if Paris-Nice takes place with a full field outside of the UCI regulations and structure. For now, I don't want to go into the details of what those sanctions might be."

However one possible sanction has been decided against. "The UCI doesn't want to touch the riders who would be going to the Olympic Games in August, because I don't think that [French] riders should be the victims of the disgraceful decisions made by their president and his board, nor indeed of a private organiser such as ASO. However the consequences could relate to World Cups and World Championships."

No crisis for Italian events, Vuelta also expected to be on UCI calendar

On the plus side for the UCI – and for stability in the sport - it seems that the Italian race organiser RCS Sport is not going to follow suit and take its races off the international calendar.

"That has been resolved," said McQuaid. "At the cyclo-cross worlds in Treviso, the UCI delegations sat down with those five federations and we thrashed out an agreement. It covered all the elements, such as the 18 teams in the Tour de France, what races should be on the Continental calendar and which races should be in the Historic calendar. Those things were all discussed during the meeting and were agreed to by everybody.

"Each of the presidents of the federations went back to their countries and discussed the deal with their organisers. The Italians did so and the races of RCS Sport are now registered on the UCI calendar. Not only that, when races are on the UCI calendar all organisers are obligated to send their technical person to the UCI before the race. We have already received the technical guy for Milan-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico, and both races are under the rules of the FCI and the UCI. It is written quite clearly on the manuals.

"The Belgian federation has registered Fleche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, two races which are organised by ASO. They are on the UCI calendar and ASO themselves have, through the French Federation, registered the Criterium International and the Tour de l'Avenir. But they haven't registered Paris-Nice, the Tour de France nor Paris-Roubaix.

"As for the Vuelta, we are still waiting for the Spanish to come back to us on it. But that race isn't until September, so there is no urgency on it. There are no indications that they won't come back [to register the race]."

According to McQuaid, the French federation had also agreed to remain within the UCI once the Treviso agreement had been finalised. However this pact didn't last long.

"The Federation presidents were very pleased with the agreement reached there," he stated. "In return, we asked that the organisers would therefore respect the authority of the UCI plus its rules and regulations. Those rules and regulations included the rule which was in place that the 18 ProTour teams have the right to participate in the Tour de France.

"That actual rule was discussed during the meeting and one of the Federation presidents - I won't say who it was - proposed at the time that because the UCI have moved a lot and made a big gesture in moving those races [several monuments such as Paris-Roubaix] onto a special calendar, that in return he felt that the concession should now be made by ASO to accept that rule. Had they done so, we would be at complete peace and there would be harmony within the cycling world. Unfortunately that didn't happen.

"The Federation presidents agreed to go back to their organisers and tell them that this is the agreement that they reached with the UCI, and to tell their organisers to stick with it. However 24 hours later I got a letter from the president of the French Federation, Jean Pitallier, who did a complete U-turn on what he had agreed the previous day. He started making demands that Paris-Nice go on to the historical calendar, and that the rule relating to the 18 ProTour teams would get taken out of the UCI regulations. From that it would seem obvious that he is not in control of cycling in France, but that ASO are."

Biological passport shortfall

One of McQuaid's greatest frustrations is the fact that while ASO has spoken on numerous occasions about the need to protect the Tour de France against doping – and indeed committed to a new initiative last October – the organiser is one of many he says has not contributed to the costs of the new biological passport initiative.

The project was developed in order to establish a longitudinal profile of each rider and thus better detect those using illicit means to boost performances. Echoing the anti-doping programmes run by Rasmus Damsgaard and the Agency for Cycling Ethics, the mechanism can detect suspicious fluctuations in blood values and hormone levels, and is a powerful weapon against the problem afflicting the sport.

At the time ASO's Patrice Clerc said, "we can't imagine that one single rider will ride the 2008 Tour de France without showing a biological passport." He also stated that "the conditions are there for a new start in cycling. A disaster is becoming an opportunity for cycling to be an example for everybody."

However, with ASO and other race organisers apparently backtracking on their commitment, the successful running of the programme is being threatened. "The total cost of the biological passport programme is €5.3 million, and currently we have something over €3.9 million," said McQuaid. "That money comes from the teams, from the riders and the UCI. The fourth stakeholder in this programme is the organisers, and the proportion that they have to put in hasn't come. I'm referring to the three main organisers plus other organisers of the high-level races.

"Our financial controller had a meeting with the AIOCC [Association Internationale des Organisateurs de Courses Cyclistes -ed.], the association of race organisers, last week. He really didn't get very much satisfaction...the meeting really didn't go very well. They questioned the proportions [of the overall payment], they said that the riders and the team should be paying more, etcetera. He got no clear indication from them at that meeting that they were prepared to pay their share."

This clearly is an about turn from the events of last summer, when ASO was calling on everything possible to be done in order to protect their race. And while the LNDD laboratory has said that it will carry out anti-doping for the Tour de France if it is run outside the aegis of the UCI, this short-term testing cannot compare with the efficacy of longitudinal profiling.

What's more, McQuaid feels that if the race organisers do not come on board, that the companies backing their events will have been misled. "These organisers were present at the summit with WADA held in Paris. They gave undertakings there and, not only that, they went out straight away and told the sponsors and TV companies that they would have it [the biological passport programme] in place. On the back of that commitment, they had contracts signed and gained increased revenues and so forth.

"Now it is coming down to implementing it and it seems that they are not prepared to contribute. Certainly, with the latest situation that we are into now with Paris-Nice, it makes things much, much more difficult in terms of dealing with things like that."

Putting a planned €5.3 million into an anti-doping programme and running a vast number of tests on ProTour and approved wildcard team riders is a powerful mechanism to push for clean cycling. However if the organisers decline to contribute their proportion, that will have a very negative effect. It also introduces further chaos into the sport, and brings cycling further down a road of non-cooperation.

"It will have a long-term impact," McQuaid argues. "The UCI is putting in the best part of €1 million into this, and my management committee have given me clear instructions not to put one Euro extra into this thing. That means we will work with the budget that we have got, and therefore the timing of it could be affected. There is pressure on from the Tour de France to have it for the first of July, but that may not be the case. If we don't have the money, we can't do it."

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